'Incredible opportunity' awaits Hawkeye women

NCAA women's basketball: A stiff challenge, too; No. 4 Louisville stands between Iowa and Sweet 16

Jeff Linder
Published: March 24 2014 | 3:40 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:06 am in

IOWA CITY -- This is Theairra Taylor's last shot.

It's also her best shot.

"This is the perfect team to (advance to the Sweet Sixteen)," Taylor said during Monday's press conference as the 25th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes (27-8) prepared for Tuesday's NCAA women's basketball second-round game against No. 4 Louisville (31-4).

"We've come close. I'm sick of that."

Tipoff is 8:30 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a game that will be televised by ESPN2. A spokesman at Carver said about 3,000 tickets had been sold as of noon Monday.

Yes, the Hawkeyes are underdogs against a team that advanced to the NCAA finals last year. Probably heavy underdogs. But you don't get the impression, listening to either team, that this is an impossible task.

"I was impressed when I saw them on tape," said Louisville Coach Jeff Walz. "I was even more impressed when I had a chance to see them in person."

Both teams advanced from Round 1 in convincing fashion. Louisville romped past Idaho, 88-42, then Iowa pulled away from Marist, 87-65.

The Cardinals shot 57.4 percent from the floor; Iowa shot 57.1 percent and placed five starters in double figures.

"Five starters in double figures," said Louisville's Sara Hammond. "(Iowa has) many weapons."

Louisville has ascended to elite status in women's basketball. The Cardinals were national runners-up in 2009 and 2013 under Walz (Connecticut denied them in the finals both times).

Iowa is a consistent winner, looking for a breakthrough. The Hawkeyes are in their seventh straight NCAA, but haven't advanced to the Sweet Sixteen since 1996.

"It would mean a lot. It's something that's eluded me personally," said Hawkeyes Coach Lisa Bluder.

In the same position last year against Notre Dame -- second round, at home -- the Hawkeyes seemed awe-stricken. The general feeling is different now.

The Hawkeyes certainly respect Louisville, and for good reason. But there doesn't appear to be a fear factor.

"They're a really physical team," Bethany Doolittle said of the Cardinals. "They will try to intimidate us. If we stay calm, composed and confident, we'll be fine.

"It's an incredible opportunity. It's definitely possible."

Taylor, who matched a career-high with 22 points against Marist, is the lone senior for the Hawkeyes. And in having her most productive season -- 12.4 points per game in her final season of a career beset by knee injuries -- she's the No. 1 source of motivation for the underclassmen to extend the season beyond Tuesday.

"I don't think words can describe how huge it would be to win this game," Doolittle said.

"It would be huge for the team. It would be huge for Theairra."

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